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Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Ohio St. backcourt more than just Turner

By Adam Rittenberg

INDIANAPOLIS -- Thanks to his position on the basketball court, Jon Diebler rarely finds himself more than 40 feet away from Evan Turner during Ohio State games.

It's safe to say Diebler enjoys the view.

William Buford
OSU's William Buford is second on the team in points, rebounds and assists.

"I'm perfectly fine with Evan going to the basket and scoring every time," a smiling Diebler said Saturday after Turner went for 31 points in a double-overtime win against Illinois in the Big Ten tournament semifinals. "He can do it all game if he wants."

There are stretches when Diebler can sit back, watch and marvel at Turner, just like the rest of us. The Buckeyes' junior guard can take over games, as he showed throughout the regular season and in the Big Ten tournament, where he averaged 27.7 points, 8 rebounds and 6.7 assists in three games en route to being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Turner is the favorite to be named national player of the year, and he should be a top-three pick in the NBA draft if he chooses to forgo his senior season.

But the Buckeyes' backcourt doesn't start and end with No. 21. Turner is the front man, but the other three aren't exactly roadies.

Without contributions from Diebler, junior David Lighty and sophomore William Buford, the Buckeyes wouldn't own Big Ten regular-season and tournament championships, not to mention a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Turner's versatility might be unmatched in college basketball this season, but all four OSU guards contribute points, rebounds, assists, loads of minutes and -- not to be overlooked -- stifling defense.

"We all feed off of [Turner]," Diebler said. "My job is to make shots, same as Will and Dave, to be aggressive on the offensive end. We know we have to be ready when our time comes."

The Big Ten tournament reinforced not only Turner's brilliance, but also how dangerous Ohio State can be when the entire backcourt is clicking.

We feel we have one of the best backcourts in the country. It's not cocky -- we're just very confident in our ability.

-- Ohio State guard Jon Diebler

All four guards scored in double figures in all three games. Buford and Lighty played every minute of the tournament until being subbed out with 1:27 left in Sunday's 90-61 title-game rout of Minnesota. Ohio State's guards (Turner, Buford, Lighty) accounted for three-fifths of the all-tournament team.

Although Turner took over in crunch time against Illinois, his 31-point performance Sunday was almost overshadowed by the play of his backcourt mates. Lighty and Diebler keyed the game's decisive 23-5 run, as Lighty scored three consecutive layups and a 3-pointer in a span of 2:14, while Diebler twice connected from beyond the arc.

"They're four great guards," Minnesota's Devoe Joseph said. "They all spread out, all take it to dribble, shoot the 3. They're a great team in that aspect."

Buckeyes head coach Thad Matta interrupted his gushing about Turner's Big Ten tournament brilliance Sunday to add: "David Lighty had a two-minute stretch today that blew Evan's out of the water. I've never seen anything like what he did there for a couple of minutes."

The four guards combined for 83 of Ohio State's 90 points, 23 rebounds, 16 assists and five steals against Minnesota.

"It's pretty hard to stop us if all four of us are hitting on all cylinders," Buford said. "You can't concentrate on one guy, because we've got different people who can do different things at any point in the game. We've got shooters, drivers, people who shoot midrange.

"We've got a fully loaded team."

Can Ohio State be contained if all four guards are clicking?

Jon Diebler
Jon Diebler is shooting 42 percent from 3-point range this season.

"You never know," Turner said. "Somebody might catch us."

A smile splashed across his face, as if to say "I'd like to see them try."

As strong as the Buckeyes' backcourt has been the past two seasons, it still seeks its first NCAA tournament win together. Only Lighty, a fourth-year junior who has "been through it all" at Ohio State, knows what it's like to make a deep run in the NCAAs.

He was part of the 2006 recruiting class that included Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr. and Daequan Cook, three first-round draft picks who helped Ohio State reach the national title game. Lighty knew how to perform alongside special players long before Turner became a household name.

"You always have to be ready," he said. "That's why the Bulls were so good. [Michael] Jordan always told them, 'Be ready for a shot.' Him kicking the ball out to Steve Kerr in the championship, knocking down the 3, that situation is always going to happen. Especially when you have a player like Evan on the court.

"They're going to key on him. There's going to be a time when they double-team him and he'll have to kick it out, so you're always ready for that opportunity."

The Big Ten has produced its share of elite backcourts that have made a mark in March in recent years: Scoonie Penn and Michael Redd at Ohio State; Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson and Jason Richardson at Michigan State; and Illinois' three-headed monster of Deron Williams, Dee Brown and Luther Head.

Ohio State's foursome hasn't looked back at those groups. It wants to make some history of its own.

"We feel we have one of the best backcourts in the country," Diebler said. "It's not cocky -- we're just very confident in our ability. We wanted to imprint our stamp on the Big Ten, and now we did. This is ours as a group. No one can take this away."

Now they're looking for more.

Adam Rittenberg covers Big Ten athletics for ESPN.com. He can be reached at espnritt@gmail.com.